CAFC: Patent Laws Preempt Unjust Enrichment Claim

PatentlyOImage004Ultra-Precision Manufacturing v. Ford Motor Co. (Fed. Cir. 2005).

Ultra disclosed an engineering design to Ford without any confidentiality agreement.  Ford later began selling a product that allegedly included the design. Ultra then sued for unjust enrichment — arguing that Ford owed a portion of the savings accrued through using the product.

The CAFC affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claim, holding that the claim was preempted by the patent statute:

Ultra-Precision seeks a patent-like remedy for Ford’s conduct in making, using, and selling products embodying information Ultra-Precision was not successful in protecting under the federal patent laws and which is free for all the world to enjoy. In the absence of an incremental benefit conferred, any attempt to obtain a patent-like royalty for the making, using, or selling of a product in the public domain under the rubric of state unjust enrichment law is preempted.

 The appellate panel drew a line between contract claims and unjust enrichment claims — finding that states had a right to enforce contracts, but that unjust infringement “has the potential to take aim at the federal scheme.”

 File Attachment: Ultra-Precision v. Ford.pdf (173 KB).